The airport.

I took two steps out of customs and walked into a country I’d never known. Bienvenidos. I was ushered in with blank stares and courteous hello’s from the airport employees.

My bag was heavy. It hurt to carry my high maintenance wardrobe. There were only a few more steps before I reached the door. A stoic security guard watched me as I struggled in all my glorious American stereotypes. Primped hair. Huge luggage that I couldn’t carry. Dazed look. My eyes scanned through the window at the crowd outside. I didn’t see them, but they were there, maybe watching me as I was looking for them. I took my first step outside and, once again, scanned the crowd.

Jota was the first to run up and hug me. My stomach did somersaults. I was in Costa Rica. I flew across the world to hug my best friends and I was there..

“Can I hug you again,” I asked Jota. I didn’t wait for his reply. I threw my arms around him and hugged him again. It didn’t feel real.

Josue and Gabo walked over and I hugged them too. Real bodies for real people, filling in the spaces between words and pictures.

“What do I say to your dad?” I asked Josue. Butterflies taunted my stomach.

He looked at me curiously. “Hello, Victor. That’s all.”

I laughed. Of course. But how do you say, Hi, I’m the American girl you’ve never met who is the friend of your son and his friends and I’m going to be spending the next couple weeks in your house. Thanks! You’re awesome. I’m glad we’re not strangers anymore.

“Hello, Victor,” I said when I saw Josue’s dad.

“Nice to meet you,” he said in his brilliant Tico accent, before giving me a big hug and a kiss. His English was choppy, but he spoke well, and he loved to practice with me.

The whole ride home Victor talked in all the English he knew, and Jota often took over the conversation, adding his hand motions. “Church.” He made a church with his hands, just in case there was any confusion, as he talked about Renuevo and a million other things. Josue translated as best he could and Gabo just smiled. He talked in Spanish every once in a while. The guys would chuckle and I would just smile back. We didn’t understand a word the other was saying, but we were friends just as much. I eyed him with silly smirks and he did the same. We laughed together. That we could understand.

Josue smiled at his joking friends and began to tell me about all the things we were passing… the stadium, the old church building. He laughed at the way the others tried to talk to me. We were all so excited in the midst of this strange scene — four Ticos and an American girl, experiencing our in-person friendship for the first time and attempting to communicate in Spanglish. We didn’t stop talking the whole ride home and even until late in the night after I’d met Rosaura, Eri, and Jahred.

___

I woke up this morning with this giddy memory at the front of my mind. I couldn’t stop smiling as I replayed it over and over. The next time I arrive at the airport in San Jose I won’t be hugging strangers. I’ll hug some of my best friends.

(Twenty-five more days.)

Casa 601

I’m taking a creative nonfiction writing class this quarter in which my first assignment was to write a descriptive essay about a place. Here is my essay about my friend Josue’s house in Costa Rica on the first night I was there in June. It’s a bit longer than what I usually post, but I hope you enjoy it.

_ _ _

The little, bronze key unlocked the iron bars. They swung out toward me, creaking, and invited me in. “Es mi casa,” said Josue. As we walked up the ceramic steps onto the ceramic porch and passed the threshold, it was too dark to notice the mint green paint covering the cement walls outside the house.

The lights at first hurt my eyes. I fought with the light, desiring so badly to surrender, but unable to convince my lips to say good night to fresh faces, fresh names, fresh, wet kisses on my cheeks. It was late. I’d flown from Seattle to stay in a stranger’s house and now, twelve hours later, I’d arrived. Their eyes rested expectantly on my sweaty, greasy figure, waiting, perhaps, for an explanation. I had none. It was curiosity that brought me here and curiosity that kept my heavy eyes glancing around the room.

I sat at the kitchen table, collecting gifts – a tall glass of guava juice, cookies, a Samsung phone for my time in the country, a house key. If it was theirs it was mine now too, and this was the center of their world. I knew because I’d seen pictures of friends — Juan Pablo and Gabo — sitting here, hanging out; Josue blowing out twenty-two birthday candles; the Martinez family eating dinner years ago on this same pastel blue table-cloth with white doilies.

I tried calling my mom that night to let her know I was safe, but there was no answer. She usually went to bed early. It was Tuesday so she’d probably spent the evening in our living room on the worn, green couch watching NCIS or some other cop show. I imagined my dad snoring on the adjacent couch and my mom annoyed at the interruption. She would have gone to bed early because her eyes don’t handle mornings well. I left a message and rejoined the expectant faces.

No walls separated the table from the brown suede couches in the living room where my Costa Rican dad was torn between the Saprissa game and the American girl at his kitchen table. His wife was occupied with making me comfortable, using Josue and her daughter as translators, running between rooms to find more accoutrements to give me. Comfortable chaos darted in and out; people kept coming. A sister, a friend, a brother, a nephew.

The TV spoke a language I could hardly understand and so did the house. Puerto; door. Mucho gusto; nice to meet you. Cocina; kitchen. Comida; food. Buenas noches; good night. My Spanish-speaking mom and dad kissed me good night, again welcoming me to their home. The chaos dissipated, but the house wouldn’t rest. The TV remained on. American sitcoms; National Geographic; gaudy Christian praise shows; Spanish-speaking cartoons I’d never seen before.

The refrigerator hummed. It must have been hungry. I noticed it’s belly held some cheese, fish, rice, guava juice, margarine, and other condiments, but not much more. Next to the fridge, on the orange, sponge-painted walls was a painting. A small, circular, white house with a Spanish roof. The house was surrounded by wild flowers and a white horse. I knew this painting. Josue took a picture next to it a couple of months ago and posted it on Facebook. I often looked at that picture and wondered where he had taken it, wondering also about the white horse and how beautiful it would be to be there too.

“Let me show you my house.” Josue left his laptop on the blue table-cloth and we got up to wander the empty house.

My sweaty, bare feet stuck to the ceramics as we walked out of the kitchen and came to a cross-roads. To my left was a sink. A bathroom also, with a toilet and shower, but outside the bathroom, in the center of the cross-roads, there was only a sink with a mirror above it and a bright light illuminating the tired eyes that stared back at me.

Across from the sink was a closed door. My sister’s room, or so I was told. And next to that, an open door. My room. Before it became mine, it belonged to Josue’s 7-year-old nephew. He painted blue stripes on the wall and hung up personal artwork. A picture of him and his mom holding hands. “Te amo,” it said. There was a bed and a closet, but all toys were put away. A large TV sat on the ground in the corner by my bed. I’m not sure if it worked, but it did guard me while I slept.

I turned off the light, and forced the door shut as it protested, then followed Josue down the hallway. To the left, another closed door. His parents’ room. To the right, the door was cracked. I curiously let myself in and my heart fluttered. I knew this room.

I laughed and smiled as I noticed a line of blue stars and moons that danced all the way around the room. “Nice blue stars,” I chuckled. Estars. We often joked at his difficulty in saying the English word.

This is the room Josue and I often skyped in. I remembered the first time we met. I was introduced that night to the white lace curtains that hung behind his headboard and the blue stars and moons that his sister painted years ago when the room belonged to her. He told me, “Wait. I have to show you my guitar.” Those were the first words my brother ever said to me as he reached for his out-of-tune beauty and played a song for me that he had written. We talked for three hours that first night, and now we stood in the same room where we met two years ago. His guitar rested against the closet doors. He picked it up to show me again and told me dreams of owning a new guitar with a prettier sound.

It was after midnight when we finished wandering, but I wasn’t ready to sleep. Rain tapped the zinc roof, reminding me of my lullaby in Seattle. We walked back through the hallway, beyond the cross-roads, and across the threshold where I had taken my first steps into their world. Josue and I stood on the ceramic porch, leaning our faces into the iron bars and watching the rain and delinquents pedal the streets. “I like the smell of Costa Rica,” I told Josue. “It smells fresh.” “It’s the rain,” he said. “And the humidity.” I nodded in agreement. Whatever it was, it smelled like home.

The moon was a bright crescent. Josue asked what the moon looked like in Seattle. It hadn’t occurred to me it might have looked different, but it must have. I couldn’t recall. I didn’t remember much about the home I’d slept in last night. Why was that? Why did something so familiar feel so distant now that thousands of miles separated my skin from its home? And how could this home, this place so unfamiliar, feel like a place I’d always known?

After three hours of sitting at the kitchen table, the Martinez home was now also mine. The puerto was the entrance to my home. The cocina was the center of my world. The comida in the hungry fridge was as much mine as it was Josue’s.

These mint green walls and the home inside it were not merely necessities for this family, nor were they simply a collection of things that defined their culture. The guava juice, the painting of the white house, the blue stars, the key to the iron gate – they were pieces of a world that gave my heart rest.

Five-minute Friday: On friends.

Go.

I’m a talkative person so I make a lot of friends. I make friends on the bus and on the street, in class and in other countries. If I hardly know you I will still probably call you my friend. That’s just how I am. I want you to know that you’re important and that you matter. Because you do.

But I have best friends too. I have friends all over the world who encourage me in my faith — Japan, Costa Rica, Texas, Seattle — every day they help me fall in love with God more than I could on my own. These are the greatest friends I could ever have in my life.

I love a lot of people and I care about a lot of people, but the ones with whom I share my soul with, those who know my deep love for Christ, they are my best friends. There’s no friendship as great or deep or beautiful than one that can share the love of God.

I love you, dear friends. Thank you for loving me well and encouraging me to love God more.

Done.

No soy una tica.

Feliz día de la independencia, Costa Rica!

Today is Costa Rica’s independence day — 190 years of independence. Wow! Viva Costa Rica! Costa Rica is not my country and right now, it’s not even my home. As much as I wish it was, it is not. No soy una tica.

I live in Seattle. I have American citizenship. My skin is pasty white. Soy una gringa.

But in my heart I’m a little bit tica. In my heart I love this country. I love the way the people greet you with a kiss though they have never met you and welcome you into their home as if it were already yours.

I love that this country is not at war and I love how you live as though everyone is your brother. I love the way you praise God and offer your lives for him. I love the way you care for your family and how you make life richer through your laughter. I love the beauty of your country and the beauty of your hearts.

I love the way my tica mom, Rosaura, feeds me until I can’t possibly eat any more, and sings to me with words I wish I could understand better. I love the way my tica mom, Xinia, smiles with endearing eyes, holds my head in her hands, and kisses my cheek before giving me a tica mama hug.

I love the way my tico dads, Victor and Gerardo, joke with me in as much English as they know and love me as though I am their daughter.

I love my tico brothers and tica sisters who love me and encourage me in the Lord. I love the way we laugh together, though not all of us have the same language. Jota, Josue, Gabo, Eri, Lucia, Chemelo, Leccy, Abi … Tefi, Robert, Kathy, Kevin, Kristine, Cristina, Nancy, David, Karen, Giovanni, Kendall, Bryan, Valerie, and so many more… I love you all and today (and every day) I love your country with you.

Thank you for making Costa Rica my other home even though I am not a tica. Pura vida.

Things that I love: 12

heart-to-heart talks with amigas

the chicas who walk with my heart

my little kitty

the sun on my face

waking up to realize that I am one day closer to being in Costa Rica

learning and understanding more Spanish

conversaciones que son sólo en español

when my hair unexpectedly holds an awesome curl without effort

getting to know people

loving my job, my boss, and my coworkers

being able to laugh at my mistakes

texts from my best friends in other countries

skype

skype dance parties

skype heart chats

knowing that God is in control

the peace of God that transcends all understanding

when God teaches me to wait so my heart doesn’t hurt so much

A place to go back to.

Of all the places I’ve traveled, there’s never been a place that I’ve gone back to.

I’ve vacationed in Mazatlan, Mexico with my family for my first out-of-country trip.

I’ve adventured to South Africa where I slept in a cold, airy cabin for two months; talked with Sesotho people about the love of God; ate wildebeest; pet lion cubs; went on a safari; and made friends from all over the U.S.

I’ve roadtripped through Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois to visit friends from my travels in South Africa.

I’ve taken pictures at the giant bean and took my first taxi ride in Chicago.

I’ve built a house in Tijuana, Mexico with 60 youth from my church.

I’ve laughed and toured my way through the sites and foods of the Midwest in Independence, Missouri.

I’ve flown half way across the world to Sendai, Japan to visit my best friend, Mallory, who has made Japan her home. We went to Tokyo Disney; spent a week’s salary in photo booths; shopped, toured, and ate the best of the best Japanese food.

I’ve hugged best friends in real life for the first time in San Jose, Costa Rica. We adventured to a volcano, to downtown San Jose, to the ocean at Quepos, and I left with more family than I could have ever dreamed.

And I’ve never gone back to one, until now. Today I’m flying back to Independence, Missouri to tackle-hug my best friend in the airport, and laugh and adventure with her for eight glorious days. Mallory and I have always had a long distance friendship. Our friendship stretches to the other side of the world when she is home in Japan, but there is no one who holds my heart closer.

Mallory is the friend who walks with me no matter how many miles are between us. She is the friend who dreams and waits and sometimes even aches with my own dreaming heart. She’s the one whom I talk with about my future husband and the man of my dreams, about my dreams of living in Costa Rica and my broken heart for the world.

She is the friend who prays for me and with me, who writes my prayers on sticky notes until they are answered. Mallory is the one who I talk with about my joys and struggles with God and in life. She is the one who makes me laugh when I’m crying and makes me laugh so hard I cry.

She said it best herself when she said we are heart sisters.

We often think about how we met 3 years ago in South Africa and what an adventure that was and who we are now — two Americans who met in South Africa, one who lives in Japan and another who dreams of living in Costa Rica. South Africa was the beginning of our friendship, but it is just a memory now. There is so much more that holds our friendship together.

Though we live 16 hours and so many miles apart, our friendship is one of the most precious things in my life. We may never have the luxury of living in the same place on this earth, but it’s fantastic that we can share life together all over the world — Washington, Missouri, Chicago, Tokyo, Sendai… our friendship has no bounds.

This summer I am lucky enough to have her here in the States, just two timezones ahead of me. When a friendship survives on care packages, skype conversations and yearly hugs, being two timezones apart feels a lot like being neighbors. For the first time in almost 2 years, I can text and call her whenever I want. We go to bed around the same time and wake up around the same time. We can skype together with our crazy siblings and cats.

Of all the places I’ve ever been, the ones to go back to are those where I’ve left a piece of my heart. Lately I’ve been learning that it’s not so much the place that captures your heart as the people in the place. And when you leave your heart with a person, your heart moves with them. It doesn’t matter where in the world you go or where in the world you stay, you’ll always have a nomadic heart as long as that person is away.

For the next week I’ll be letting my nomadic heart take a rest as I spend some much needed face-to-face, arm-in-arm, close-enough-to-see-you-pitting-out-from-the-Missouri-heat time with my best friend, Mallory; my heart sister.

Do you have a best friend, a heart sister/brother? What great things define your friendship?

How to pack for a week away.

3 days before leaving:

  • Plan out the last couple days: what needs to be done? What do I need to buy? What errands do I need to run?
  • Think about what bag to pack in and how much stuff can fit in the bag.
  • Talk to friend about using their shampoo so I don’t have to buy ridiculously priced small bottles that won’t last 2 days or pay to have my bag checked.
  • Tweet and update facebook status about the trip getting closer and needing to pack.

2 days before leaving:

  • Check off things from my list that are unimportant but make me feel accomplished. Ex: Call the dentist to schedule an appointment 3 months in advance; write cards to friends that I’ve been thinking about writing for a while; cook the Costa Rican dish that I have been wanting to try; sew a patch on a hole in my comforter and a button on my purse.
  • Go shopping at Target with mom.
  • Think about what outfits I want to wear while I’m away and what the weather will be like.
  • Look up the weather on my Mac Dashboard.
  • Get distracted and add more items to my dashboard.
  • Tweet and update facebook status about being a procrastinator and still needing to pack.
  • Have a bonfire and dinner with friends.
  • Forget to do laundry until 9:30 pm.

1 day before leaving:

  • Decide that I should color my hair in the morning before work because I have the dye sitting around and need to get to it eventually.
  • Eat breakfast and sip coffee while lounging around, talking with my mom and brothers.
  • Skype with friends.
  • Tweet about still needing to pack.
  • Remember that the laundry is still in the dryer and needs to be folded.
  • Fold laundry.
  • Go to the post office to send the letters I wrote yesterday.
  • Stop by the drug store to pick up things that I didn’t by at Target yesterday.
  • Tweet about needing to pack again and running out of time.
  • Clip nails and tweeze eyebrows because I can’t take those things on the plane and I don’t want them to annoy me tomorrow.
  • Sync ipod.
  • Blog about packing.
  • Realize there is only an hour left until I work my 2-10 pm shift and I still need to eat lunch.
  • Throw a few clothes in the bag

Finally, I’m ready to leave at 3:30 am tomorrow morning to get on a plane to hug my best friend, Mallory.

Confessions of a Wanna-Be-Tica.

I’ve eaten huevos (eggs), cafe con leche (half coffee, half milk), and tortillas or gallo pinto (rice and beans) almost every day for the past eight weeks that I’ve been home from Costa Rica. I’m still not tired of it.

I’m getting really good at making platanos fritos (fried plantains). They taste almost as good as Rosaura’s.

Everything is tan lindoooooo in my world. (That means “so cute” in Spanish.)

I put salt on mangoes.

I go to a Mexican/Latin American market at least once a week, more if I can.

I order anything in Spanish whenever I can. Especially when I’m at a taquieria.

Really, I speak Spanish every chance I get. With my family, with coworkers, the kids I work with, the parents of the kids I work with, and with friends who don’t speak Spanish.

90% of the music I listen to is in Spanish.

Phrases like que chiva, mae and estoy volando have become normal in my vocabulary.

I’m a U.S. citizen and I live in Seattle, but I am more informed about Costa Rican news than U.S. news. Thank you, Tico Times.

I bought my ticket back to Costa Rica last night. *cue giddy squealing and uncontrollable smiling* I’m going home to my tico family! On December 7th I will get to give them the biggest hugs and kisses and smiles anyone has ever seen. That’s 115 days folks! (not that I’m counting. 😉 )

Friendship.

This is what life-long friendship looks like. These ladies (Michelle Wang and Michelle Terry) have been my friends through everything. Literally. I’ve known Michelle Terry (the ginger) since I was 2 years old, and Michelle Wang (the Chinese) since I was 6… ? I’ve lost count. The girls are crazy — very crazy — but that’s what I love about them. If there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s laughing together.

Let me introduce to you The Trio, aka Charlie’s Angels or The Trio of Hotness (self-proclaimed title by Michelle Wang)… And yes, this is what we are really like when we’re together. No, there was absolutely no substance abuse involved in making these videos. No alcohol. No drugs. Just tacos.

Rocking out to Backstreet Boys.

I can promise 2 things: Mich doesn’t actually have a beard, and yes, she is really like this.

Costa Rica: A summary of my heart.

On Monday I returned home to Seattle after flying 3,500 miles to spend 12 glorious days in Costa Rica with a few of so many of my best friends. We hugged for the first time, ate together for the first time, and hung out in the best ways you only can if you are in the same place. These friends of mine hold a special piece of my heart. I know I will be back in Costa Rica some day soon.

Costa Rica is as much my home as is Seattle, maybe more. I have never felt so at home, never felt so at peace, never felt so much a part of my church family.

I’m not sure how to sum this up in words that you will understand. My heart has been captured, changed, taken by a country and a people and a culture that is so beautiful and special to me. Though I am here in Seattle, remembering to find joy and purpose while I am here, my heart remains 3,500 miles away.

Someday I’ll be back to join my heart. Until then I wait on God and what he has for my life now. I must remind myself that I am not in any way stuck here. God has me here now because he wants me here. There is a purpose for everything in my life even now when I wish his will would take me straight to my heart in Costa Rica. There is a purpose for my life in Seattle while I wait for God’s timing to take me back to the country that stole my heart.

_ _ _ _ _

A lightning fast summary of what I did: watched Jota paint the new church while I talked and made friends; fed carrots to animals at the farm; froze at the volcano that we couldn’t see because it was too foggy; went running with Jota; watched the guys play futbol in the street; went to church at Cuidad Renuevo; attempted to talk with Josue’s mom in Spanglish every morning; drank coffee twice a day; met the families of my dear friends; played on photobooth with Jota and Gabo…

ate typical food and horchata in Coronado with Jota and Abi; shopped in downtown San Jose with Jota and Gabo; toured the National Museum in San Jose; witnessed a protest in San Jose; rode the bus many times; learned how to cross busy streets and not get killed; ate so much delicious food made by Rosaura and Victor; gained sisters; played with Josue’s nephews; hung out with my pastor while he recorded songs with a couple guys; loved on my pastor’s daughters; became friends with half most of the people at the church…

saw X-Men at the cinema; ate churros; played air hockey with the boys at the arcade; stayed in a cabin in Quepos, a beautiful coastal town right by the beach; swam in a warm ocean; walked through Manuel Antonio National Park and saw sloths, monkeys, toucans and lizards; went grocery shopping with my three favorite boys (hilarious to shop with guys who have a different culture); watched Costa Rica lose to Honduras in the Gold Cup…

joked with my boys; laughed with my boys; strengthened friendships that I will treasure for the rest of my life.